HOW TO GROW A BEARD (Oct, 1956)

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HOW TO GROW A BEARD

It takes more than hair on your chin—you need a thick skin. But this man thinks it’s worth it.

By J. Robert Connor

THE male beard, lying fallow for the past 60 years, is emerging once again in all its hairy glory. Despite the prejudice that exists against the jungled jowl there is today a definite trend away from the razor. The man with the fluff beneath his chin is becoming more and more conspicuous on the city streets. Newspaper and magazine ads abound with facial foliage and the tufted chin of the serious conductor and the jazz musician attests to the growing revival of the beaver.

Perhaps the most prominent beard in the public eye today is the magnificent russet growth that enhances the appearance of Commander Edward Whitehead, the Schweppes man. Whitehead, who served with the British Royal Navy during World War II, vowed during the second year of hostilities not to shave until peace came. Then he tossed his razor overboard. He says, “After having known the delights of the beard I just couldn’t think of giving it up.”

Students of the beard hail Whitehead’s growth as a fine example of the Liederkranz style. Exponents of other styles are TV-man Skitch Henderson, whose trim Van Dyke is familiar to millions of viewers, and musician Mitch Miller who sports a snappy Sforza, a type generally thought to go well with horns and a tail. Rex Stout, author of the popular Nero Wolfe detective yarns, wears an under-the-chin style known sinee the War of Secession as a Shenandoah.

Undoubtedly a part of the fascination of beards for men is the fact that with a beard you can to some extent control what you look like; ‘you can cut your foliage to fit one of the styles mentioned above, or find another style that suits you better, or just play it by ear— improvise. There is hardly a man alive who has not wondered what sort of luxuriance he could achieve if he allowed his whiskers to sprout. It is a soul-satisfying experience to watch this mark of manhood blossom as nature intended it should.

Your MI editors, always anxious to keep our readers abreast of the latest developments, have looked into the current upsurge in beards to see just what lurks behind the bush. Resolutely, and to get firsthand information on the subject, I volunteered to grow a crop of chin spinach.

The first comment I received was a mild one—”What’s the matter, you stand too far from the razor this morning?” But criticisms grow more violent as your intentions become more obvious.

The most obnoxious character is the one who blandly remarks after three weeks that you’ve got practically nothing on your chin that he couldn’t raise in three days.

You get this treatment at the time when the most encouragement is needed. First, you don’t know if the damned thing will grow. Second, wherever you travel your beard becomes the object of prolonged stares by all and sundry, until you feel like pulling it off and stamping on it. Strangers will stop and ask why you are growing it.

They’ll ask such questions as “Are you in the movies?” and “Wassamatta, ya lose a bet?” On the road unknown motorists will pull up alongside your car and give you a savage glare.

But beard growing isn’t all agony. The number of women who affect distaste for the beard is more than compensated for by those who go for it as cats go for catnip. Two out of five women are unable to contain their enthusiasm. They stare at a beard in joyous fascination; if allowed to they will stroke it as the minutes fly by.

A prominent example of the modern beard-loving woman is Jet MacDonald, wife of William Johnson who appears in the Broadway musical Pipe Dream.” Johnson sports a growth about which Jet says, “It’s soft and warm, like kissing a precious little cocker spaniel.”

The leaders in the back-to-the-beard movement all report great satisfaction with their manly adornments. Folk singer Burl Ives says, “The first three weeks that I had a beard I thought it took courage to keep it. Now, when I look at the hairless, bare faces of the men on the street I know it is they, the exposed ones, who need courage. Every man should try one. They grow on you.”

The enthusiast with a medium beard can achieve satisfactory results in about seven weeks. A more hairy specimen may obtain a decent growth in about a month. Don’t be discouraged and return to the razor after two weeks when the hairs on your chin seem betwixt and between and your face looks like a plundered nest. This is just a passing stage through which the novice beard-grower can only mark time.

There is nothing you can put on your beard to make it grow faster, according to Charles De Zemler, an authority on beards who runs a barber shop in New York’s Rockefeller Center. Mr. De Zemler also says that, once full grown, the beard may be treated with a little wax to train it but otherwise water is sufficient to maintain its good looks aside from grooming. Hair tonics, pomades, etc., are taboo. Mr. De Zemler recommends professional care if you want a fine beard. The price of a facial trim in New York varies from 75 cents to $1.75. If you do go to a barber make sure he knows his business; beard trimming is a specialized art.

If you live where there are no beard masters, you had best trim your own. There is much pleasure in this and it’s easier than trying to give yourself a crewcut. Remember that while pruning your growth is not to be taken lightheartedly, a certain boldness is necessary. Look before you snip, then snip like a man. Your crop will require at first a comb—when it reaches the half-inch length it can be tamed considerably with this simple implement. A pair of small scissors—manicure scissors preferably—will do for pruning. The razor is retained to mow around the outer fringe of the design after you have clipped it. Shaving around this fringe must be done with great care and caution applied with the lather.

Now the question arises: What style of beard would you like to grow? Bop? Balzac? Viennese Fleck? A husky McClellan? There are over 100 types of beards that you can cultivate. By making a few innovations on your own you can increase the number.

A tumultuous history stands behind the tufted chin. Men have fought over beards, died for them and been honored for them. From the earliest times they were a mark of distinction among men. Religion and, later, politics and fashion determined these differences.

The ancient Lacedemonians and Egyptians considered chin fluff a symbol of wisdom and in order to obtain a favor from a Greek, you only had to touch his beaver.

To touch anyone’s beard, or to cut off a bit of it was, among the earlier French, the most sacred pledge of protection and confidence. For a long time all letters that came from the sovereign had three hairs from his royal foliage in the seal, for greater sanction.

Alexander the Great kept his embellished jaw but ordered his soldiers’ crops to be trimmed for fear that the enemy might seize them and lop off their heads with a keen-edged sword.

Russia’s Peter the Great, in an attempt to Westernize his subjects, put a tax on their bristles and ordered the upper classes to pay 100 kopecks to retain them. The lower classes had a one-kopeck fine hung on their chins.

Laurels for the longest beard in history may not go to Hans Steininger but his growth was certainly spectacular. Steininger lived during the 15th century in Germany and is reputed to have tripped over his beard while going down a flight of stairs, breaking his neck. Since he had no more use for his growth it was removed and given to the museum of Braunau, Austria, where it is said to be on display today and to measure eight feet nine inches.

As for the beard’s new popularity— beyond man’s instinctive yearning for it, there is no valid explanation. The movement runs head-on into opposition, as Gerald Barnes, a transit operator in the Atlanta, Ga., Transit System will testify. Barnes was fired from his job and insists it is because of his beard. He recently filed a $25,000 suit against his employers charging violation of his civil rights to “have and enjoy chin whiskers.”

“Chin whiskers” is, of course, inaccurate as whiskers do not grow on the chin. They grow on the sides and are otherwise known as mutton-chops, Dun-drearies and sideburns.

Part of the enjoyment of owning a beard is to stroke it, a very relaxing pastime which also helps to train it. Since it is an ornament you will find that it appeals to your vanity and you’ll fuss over it and give yourself admiring glances in the mirror. This is fun. As one Who has grown a beard, I have found it a very stimulating experience, especially as my wife is of the anti-beard faction. But I’m used to sleeping in the attic now and am determined that my beard shall stay.

6 comments
  1. Jeff says: December 31, 20111:19 am

    Front page photo looks like a convention of Russian leaders from the 1920′s

  2. Stephen says: December 31, 20114:14 am

    Speaking as a man with a beard, instructions on how to grow one can be simplified to:
    1. Be a man.
    2. Don’t shave your face.

  3. Don F says: December 31, 20115:34 am

    Stephen, that’s how you grow an Edwin Smith!

  4. Kosher Ham says: December 31, 20113:48 pm

    Beards make you look too much like a few Islamic enemies of the U.S., such as an Iranian Mullah.

  5. Toronto says: December 31, 20117:14 pm

    Kosher Ham: Yeah, my beard and blue eyes makes me look SOOO Iranian. Sure.

    Truth to tell, I *was* once asked if I was of the Hebrew persuasion as I happened by a Temple on evening – they were one short of minyan. I was tempted to go in just for the experience, but gave it a pass.

  6. Kosher Ham says: January 1, 20121:02 pm

    OY!

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